The Double Negative of the Black Body in Science Fiction

19 Feb

            Sheree R. Thomas’s introduction references Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man emphasizing the way it “introduced the idea of black invisibility” (xii). Notions of cultural invisibility and the unacknowledgement of African-American humanity are addressed critically in Harold Cruse’s “Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American.” Cruse demarks the invisible body of the African American recognizing “Wherever he lives, he is restricted. His ‘national boundaries’ are the color of his skin, his racial characteristics and the social conditions within his sub-cultural world” (44). Cruse explains how invisibility is enscribed on and through the social positioning of the African-American body and begins to gesture towards some of the consequences. James T. Stewart in “The Development of the Black Revolutionary Artist” begins to engage how ‘invisible’ bodies can begin to become presences (tying back to Sheree Thomas’s mission). Stewart claims “The purpose of writing is to enforce the sense we have of the future. The purpose of writing is to enforce the sense we have of responsibility−the responsibility of understanding our roles in the shaping of a new world. After all, experience is development; and development is destruction” (7). Stewart’s relation of development and destruction alludes to the significance of analyzing and rejecting contemporary social structures and looking towards new institutions. His perspective on developing an assertive presence of African-Americans, particularly through art, parallels Sheree Thomas’s purpose in creating a Science Fiction anthology which draws attention to the “dark matter, invisible to the naked eye; and yet their [these science fiction authors] influence−their gravitational pull on the world around them−would become undeniable” (xiv). Part of the work many of the pieces we’re studying do then is to reflect and engage the absent presence of unacknowledged social beings, namely African-Americans within (American) artistic and social institutions.

            So one level of invisible presence then is developed by artists and critics producing and engaging African-American works. The double invisibility of these bodies becomes apparent as multiple texts discuss the literal disappearance of Black bodies. Schuyler’s Black No More envisions a society where Black bodies have been more or less erased, W.E.B. Dubois’s “The Comet” removes black and white bodies from a geographical position for a particular period of time, and Derrick Bell’s “The Space Traders” engages the ways Black bodies are present and absent in American society before sending them off. These authors all employ the trope of disappearing or invisible Black bodies albeit in varying ways. Surmising from Thomas’s introduction, these speculative pieces create a double invisibility of Black bodies: first in authorship, then through content and alternate social analysis. Such positions have the potential to create bleak social perspectives on race, class, gender, and acknowledgement of humanity. However, the double invisibility of these works becomes a paradoxical presence once they enter critical and cultural discourses. The bodies which are being discussed, analyzed, and creating these pieces become a social presence while they simultaneously remain invisible. Furthermore, in the pieces themselves (particularly these three works), the presence of absent Black bodies have impacts on virtually all aspects of American lives (ranging from the Capitalist system, to social classifications, to appearance and identity politics, etc.). The consequences that occur due to the literal absence of already invisible bodies become apparent within Schuyler’s (still) racist society, W.E.B. Dubois’s temporarily humanist society of two, and Bell’s Capitalist centered world. Some of the implications of these works then seems to be how and who constructs society, what happens when ingrained ideologies are challenged or manipulated, and who gets impacted by social changes. Perhaps more important for those working within university systems these, perhaps less than didactic but more than fictional narratives, begin to reveal the importance of critical thinking practices (and perhaps of questioning norms which may be established as a result of ‘critical’ thinking).

            Turning back to the critical works discussion of the invisible body and social position African-Americans and their works have been placed in calls for a redefinition of ‘invisible’ in some senses. The ‘invisible’ body is not so alienated that it does not have an impact on larger social structures. To the contrary, these ‘invisible’ presences uphold social norms (both good and bad) simply through their presence (as this week’s works demonstrate). Thomas’s discussion of ‘dark matter’ impacting its surroundings and being recognized through those consequences might be the best conception of the traditional recognition of these authors, works, and social groups. So while particular individuals and populations are doubly absent, they are still saliently present…which brings me to wondering about the impact for all involved when they become salient social presences (such as Golightly in W.E.B. Dubois’ work).

 

*I only did the works cited for the pieces that I included that weren’t in the assigned readings for today.

Cruse, Harold. “Revolutionary Nationalism and the Afro-American.” Black Fire. Ed. Amiri

            Baraka & Larry Neal. Black Classic Press: Baltimore, 1968.

Stewart, James T. “The Development of the Black Revolutionary Artist.” Black Fire. Ed. Amiri

            Baraka & Larry Neal. Black Classic Press: Baltimore, 1968.

 

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One Response to “The Double Negative of the Black Body in Science Fiction”

  1. Dr Lothian February 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    Thanks for this post, Erin!

    >The consequences that occur due to the literal absence of already invisible bodies become apparent within Schuyler’s (still) racist society, W.E.B. Dubois’s temporarily humanist society of two, and Bell’s Capitalist centered world. Some of the implications of these works then seems to be how and who constructs society, what happens when ingrained ideologies are challenged or manipulated, and who gets impacted by social changes.

    I love the way you sum up each of the stories, and this made me wonder about the status of the “world” in each one of them. We often think of science fiction as imagining a world that is in some way different from the real one –– but here we see it used in the service of heightening real inequalities. I will be curious to hear what everyone thinks about the status of science fiction speculation in these stories as compared to the utopias we’ve read earlier, as well as in comparison to the project that Thomas lays out in the introduction to Dark Matter.

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